Sunday, 31 May 2009

Head In The Clouds

I have clouds on the brain at the moment.

On the one hand, I'm attending a tutorial on cloud computing today. For anyone who doesn't know - cloud computing is basically a way of using lots of cheap computers to do distributed processing, doing a bit of the work on each machine and then bringing the results back together. It's the Google model. So the plan for today is to learn about work which has been done to use this type of computing for text processing, mostly just for interest, but maybe I'll think of a way I could use it for my PhD (after all, I have some old computers lying around!)

I'm also spending a lot of time lately worrying about how to capture clouds as nicely with my dSLR as I used to with my old compact camera.


That's a photo from the old camera (taken in Iceland); I didn't have to put any effort into capturing the sky. But with the new one I have to take a lot of care to avoid it going completely white. I think I need either a UV filter or a polariser but I don't know much about these things....

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Flying Over Greenland, Dreaming

I already had Greenland on my list for next summer. But yesterday's flight to Denver went the beautiful route (over Greenland and nortnern Canada) and now I really really really want to go there RIGHT NOW! Well, apart from the fact that I'm quite enjoying Boulder, about which, more later. But honestly... Greenland... I'm in love!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Travel Safety

Half A Train

No, I'm not going to talk about train crashes (though it's hard to imagine what else could have caused half a carriage to be on the back of a lorry in the city centre). That would be far too depressing.

But I've heard a bit of debate recently on travelling safely, in particular how this relates to increased use of social media, so I thought I'd throw in my 2p.

With everyone now online around the clock and around the world, it's much easier to tell the world about your travels in real-time. This has obvious benefits - like being able to get restaurant tips through Twitter - but there are potential down-sides, too.

The big one is that blogs and Twitter are usually open - it's not like Facebook where only your friends can see your status. So in theory, anyone could find out you're away from home and (the argument goes) conclude that your house must be empty.

This post is scheduled to publish while I'm on the plane to Colorado. Am I worried about telling you this? Well, not really.

For one thing the house isn't empty - my husband is home, and even when we're both away, we usually make sure there's someone staying at our house most of the time. We don't just leave the place empty for weeks on end.

Secondly, I've been quite careful not to tell you exactly where I live (I'd prefer not to be stalked when I am at home!), so any burglar would have to search a pretty large area.

But thirdly, and most importantly, using blogs to identify temporarily-empty houses is simply inefficient. I think any burglar would find it more profitable to simply drive around looking - the way they've done for years.

That's my thought on the matter, anyway. Interested to hear your opinions in the comments - and if all goes well (and I can find an internet connection) I'll next be blogging from Boulder.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

We Have A Winner...

And it is ladyfi! Congratulations - and now you just need to let me know your address so I can get your prize in the post.

Although, actually, I won't be able to mail it for a week or so... which brings me neatly around to my next point: I'm off to Colorado tomorrow.

There are a couple of posts scheduled in my absence, but in general my presence in Blogland is rather dependent on whether I can get the internet in my hotel, or at the conference. I hope you'll all bear with me if I'm a little quieter than usual, but at least I should have plenty of Rocky Mountain photos to share.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

House Martins

We were visiting an English Heritage property recently when we noticed a lot of birds fluttering in and out of the windows in the tower. It's times like these when I'm extremely glad of the long lens on my camera; it can see much further than I can!

House martin

Turns out there were house martins nesting in the rafters.

House martins & nest

Not just one or two pairs, but loads. I spent ages happily taking snapshots, while my husband worked out where all the nests were (he can see these things without using the camera zoom).

Pair of house martins

My first attempt to capture one of the birds in flight was a rather amusing failure:

Bad photo of a house martin in flight

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Travel Tuesdays #19: Cornish Construction

This photo was taken in Cornwall in May 2008.

I have no idea what this sweet little building, perched high on a Cornish clifftop, was built for. If it were mine, I'd open up the windows at the front, install electricity (and wireless!), and use it as a hideaway for writing. Though I don't know if I'd get much done with views over the sea offering a constant distraction!

Don't forget to enter my photo giveaway

Monday, 25 May 2009

Pack Holiday

This weekend, I went on my first Brownie Pack Holiday as an adult. And my goodness, did it bring back memories of going as a child - I was apparently the only girl who wasn't particularly into Disney princesses at that age, and I still haven't watched most Disney films, so I was a little out of my depth with having to be Sleeping Beauty for the weekend.

Hiking through the woods, though? That I can do! We had to go 'off road' to avoid lakes of mud at the bottom of the hill, so there was a little unexpected climbing. The weather was beautiful and, as well as walking and doing crafts, we went grass sledging one afternoon.

Now my knee aches, I'm very tired, and I have to finish packing for Colorado. But it was well worth it for all the Brownie smiles - and later, I can apparently get a camping license to take the 10-year-olds in tents, which would be fabulous (I was watching the Guides in their camp with just a little twinge of envy).

Sunday, 24 May 2009

'China in Photographs' Exhibition

If you happen to be near Sheffield over the next couple of weeks, go along to the gallery on Level 4 of the Sheffield University Student Union building to see an exhibition named 'China in Photographs'.

I have a personal interest in this because five of my photos are on display, as part of a university-wide competition. The rules allowed up to five photos, in five categories:
  • Chinese landscapes
  • Chinese people
  • Famous sites in China
  • Culture & everyday life
  • Artistic
Since I conveniently happened to be in China last year, I've entered every category of the contest, including this one for the People category:


I'll let you know if I win anything......

The exhibition opens tomorrow and runs until 5th June.

Don't forget to enter my photo giveaway to win your very own copy of one of my Beijing shots

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Malmesbury: A History Lesson

Malmesbury 2000

Set into what looks like a fairly boring flight of steps, embedded plaques tell you a little about events in Mamesbury's past so you can enjoy a history lesson as you climb. They are only brief notes, but nevertheless some interesting local snippets.

Malmesbury 500BC
c.500BC - An iron age community occupied the hill fort here.

Malmesbury 675
675 - Adhelm, founder of the Abbey, is given the first grant of land for his monastery.

Malmesbury 880
c.880 - Malmesbury is given borough status by King Alfred.

Malmesbury 941
941 - Athelstan, King of England, dies at Gloucester and is buried in Malmesbury's abbey, having given King's Heath to the men of Malmesbury forever.

Malmesbury 1180
1180 - Norman abbey building dedicated.

Malmesbury 1490
c.1490 - Malmesbury's market cross is erected, for "poore market folkes to stande dry when rayne cummith"

Malmesbury 1539
1539 - Henry the Eighth sells the abbey to William Stumpe an "exceding rich clothiar"

Malmesbury 1886
1886 - Malmesbury, after a thousand years of burgess rule, forms a new council

Don't forget to enter my photo giveaway

Friday, 22 May 2009

Pretty things make me happy!

It may be shallow, I don't care. Having pretty, colourful things just makes my mood brighter - and that makes it worth buying them!

In one of my favourite shops in Stroud, I recently bought a beautiful new card wallet:

I'd been looking at them every time I went in (or even walked past the window) for weeks, and eventually I gave in. I'm glad I did: it's so pretty, it makes me smile every time I go to use my credit card.

In fact, I like it so much that it was only a couple of days before I went and bought myself a coin purse by the same designer:


Even the back is pretty:


The company, as you can probably read, is called Vendula, and they have a website showcasing their designs. I think my favourite (other than the ones I already own) is the coffee cup motif; go and have a look around if you like this sort of thing as much as I do. For added bonus, they're very reasonably priced (you might even say cheap).

Someone with far more dedication than I have to prettiness in the blogosphere is Kate at Wishing True, a relatively new blog devoted to beautiful things.

Don't forget to enter my photo giveaway

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Window Displays

In Tetbury a couple of weeks ago we noticed a rather interesting addition to the window display:


As you can see, one of the dogs was sleeping soundly, while the other enjoyed watching the world go by.

This seems to be the latest Cotswold fashion, because just on Monday my husband spotted these fluffy sweethearts adding interest to an otherwise unremarkable shop window in Bath:


There was some debate amongst the passers-by as to whether they were real, but they did look round just after I'd put my camera (aka phone) away again.

Don't forget to enter my photo giveaway

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Late As Usual! A Giveaway To Celebrate Six Months Of Blogging

I'd say "I can't believe I missed it," but actually it's more unbelievable that I didn't miss it by further. You see, on May 14th this blog reached an important* milestone: readers, we've made it to six months.

I'm sure my first posts were terrible, and thankfully no-one was reading back then, but we have (I hope) come a long way since then.

In celebration of the fact that I've got this far - and that people are still reading, thank you very much - I've decided to have a little giveaway. I'll be giving away a print of one of my photos:

Bicycle repair man

The photo in question was featured on yesterday's Travel Tuesday post, and really is one of my favourite pictures capturing the cottage industry style of business which is still just about surviving in China; the prize is a 7x5 print, and if you live somewhere within reasonable postage costs I'll even frame it for you.

You have one week from today to get your entries in: just leave a comment on this post. You can get one extra entry by referring others from your blog (just tell me you've done it) or through Twitter (include @rachelcotterill to draw it to my attention).

I'll put names in a hat and announce the winner next week.

* that's 'important' on the scale of events in the life of this blog, not in any other frame of reference.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Travel Tuesdays #18: Nine Million Bicycles?

The first bicycle we noticed in Beijing - as we wandered around on our first evening in the city - was this Subway delivery bike parked outside an office block:

'Subway' delivery bike

We also saw some pretty heavy loads being moved by pedal-power:


But my all-time favourite Beijing bicycle shot is of this little bike repair shop just around the corner from our hotel:

Bicycle repair man

P.S. If you don't know the musical reference of the title, try YouTube.

Monday, 18 May 2009


Next Monday is probably the most famous Gloucestershire event after the Gold Cup - and certainly the most insane. Yes, it's that time of year again... cheeserolling season is upon us.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this particular brand of British insanity eccentricity, I should explain.

There are two types of race at the cheeserolling:
  • uphill - for the 'serious' athlete, usually won by someone very fit, and with minimal injuries
  • downhill - for the nutters, usually won by the cheese, and with paramedics on constant standby
Both types have male, female, and childrens' events. The downhill race is the traditional cheese-roll, as in a large cheese actually is hurled down the hill, and people then run fall down after it. Somewhere back in the mists of time, they managed to pick a suitably steep hill so as to maximise the entertainment value for the spectators - and the formula works, so why change anything? It really is quite a sight to behold.

We went along to watch in 2006:

Yes, that is someone being carried off in a stretcher. The incredible thing? It wasn't a competitor - it was a spectator who was hit by falling cheese!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Shropshire In The Rain


So we'd decided at fairly short notice to go camping this weekend. Frankly, the weather forecast was so awful that we considered postponing the trip, but we're hardy souls and besides, we were both really excited about getting the tent out again.

It did rain, a lot, but we stayed in such a beautiful spot that I didn't really care. At least we had a non-leaking tent (something we forgot to check before going to Iceland... I don't remember whether I've told you that story!) and it's actually quite pleasant to lie and listen to the rain when you know it's not going to soak you.

And when we woke up on Saturday, the sun was actually shining:


We took a drive up the Long Mynd, by which time it was raining again and visibility could have been better, but it was still pretty stunning to climb so high into the Shropshire hills (which, I'm sure, have a name - but geography has never been my strong point).


We decided to go for a late breakfast in Church Stretton, where we also wandered around an incredible indoor market-slash-jumble-sale. Some of the unbelievable things on sale included an optician's testing case, a fully-funtional dentist's chair, a copper bed-warming pan, a pike.... really more bizarre things than I could enumerate here. If you get the chance to take a look around, I'd suggest you seize it.


After breakfast (really, more like lunch) we headed over to Stokesay Castle which is in the care of English Heritage and, unlike many of their properties, benefits from having a well-preserved roof.


Indeed, the unusual construction of the roof is one of the distinguishing features of the castle.



They call it a castle, but it's actually more of a manor house - although the building is fortified, the garrison surrendered immediately on the one occasion that the 'castle' was attacked. This probably contributed to the property surviving in one piece!

There's even a small area in one of the rooms where the original wall paintings are preserved, if a little faded:


The Great Hall at Stokesay was probably my favourite room - you could just imagine having a medieval banquet here.


But from the outside, the most impressive building is actually the gatehouse:


The house is set in lovely cottage gardens, which were in full bloom this weekend.



From the upstairs windows, you can see the neighbouring church, which is independent of the castle and apparently still functioning.


Of course we went to have a look inside the church, too:



And looking back from the churchyard, is another great view of the gatehouse and the main castle building:


We returned back to another night under (dripping) canvas, and this morning packed up the tent - in under twenty minutes - and made our way slowly home again. It was a damp weekend, indeed, but a thoroughly pleasant one.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Gone Camping!

I spent last night listening to the rain drumming on the tent, but thankfully we stayed dry inside. This photo was taken this morning when it brightened up. I'll be back in Blogland tomorrow.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Friday Shoot-Out: A Stroll By The River

The theme for today's Friday Shoot-Out is to get out and about without a car - which suits me fine because I can't drive. Plus you all know I'm a rural girl, and some of my favourite spots aren't even accessible by car.

Just look at the path between the road and the river:

Unfortunately, with my ongoing knee trouble (I've been referred to another physio, if you were wondering) I can't presently walk as far or as painlessly as I used to. However I did enjoy a nice stroll with my husband by this river in Malmesbury.

There was one swan swimming along the river, and further down, another one sleeping on the nest. She (or he) opened one eye to get a look at us when we stopped to take photos, but obviously couldn't be bothered to move.

I had to climb the wall to get this photo of someone's lovely cottage garden:

There were even pretty flowers growing between the stones:

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